CO.CC:Free Domain

Monday, March 30, 2009

Joseph Braude: Music & Islam

Place and Date: New York City

Interviewer: Banning Eyre

Joseph Braude (Eyre-2006)

Author and Middle East specialist Joseph Braude provides the principle voice on Afropop Worldwide’s Hip Deep program, “Music and Islam: From Prohibition to the Science of Ecstasy.” In preparing for this program, Joseph spoke with two authorities on Islam, Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University Fadlou Shihadi, author of “Philosophies of Music in Medieval Islam,” and Sheikh Tamer Salim, a Muslim cleric, originally from Egypt, but now working in Brooklyn, New York. What follows is Banning’s conversation with Joseph, including excerpts from the discussions with the two Muslim scholars.

Banning Eyre: To start, Joseph, why don’t you introduce yourself.

Joseph Braude: I am a writer and a specialist in the Middle East, where I spend a lot of time, and where half of my family hails from. I'm excited about exploring this topic of music and Islam as someone who is a musician himself and has spent a lot of time studying Arabic and Islamic history in school and with people in the region.

B.E.: Now, since we will be referencing some quotes from your interview with Dr. Fadlou Shihadi, why don’t you introduce him as well.

J.B.: Dr. Fadlou Shihadi is a professor emeritus at Rutgers University and the author of the seminal book about this subject called Philosophies of Music in Medieval Islam. He is also a baritone singer and a lover of every kind of music himself. In his scholarship about music and classical Islam, Dr. Shihadi parses the debates that were going on in the classical period between all the different major thinkers of Islamic law and philosophy, how they differed from one another, and how they agreed with each other about many key points on legislating music. When we met, he started out with this general statement:

Fadlou Shihadi: Islam is a comprehensive religion. In other words, it’s concerned not just with the relation between man and God but with every aspect of human life. So there is a concern that the life of the individual in that society shall follow the straightforward path, which is submission to the will of God, or in the Mystic tradition, to become one with god. So this centrality of the God relationship could be threatened in a number of ways. And it was perceived that music—and I think it’s wrong for those who talk about music in general—certain kinds of music, associated with debauchery or cabaret music in the bad sense of the word, that these things, since they arouse strong passions, would be, as some would put it, the devil’s way of turning people from God. And that’s a grave concern for religious people. I think the more moderate people would say it depends on what the situation of the music, what kind of music, and so on. For instance, chanting of the Koran, if that is considered music, the chanting of camel caravans, music in special celebrations, which was implicitly accepted for the Prophet—these are accepted. An analogy is often made with speech. I mean, if you can use speech for cursing, that’s not a reason to abolish speech. And therefore why say you shouldn’t listen to music regardless of what the circumstances are?


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